Or at least why it feels like you are…
Over the past few years, I’ve been diving deep into marketing for musicians because the truth is, I really knew nothing about it. I gave it a go as a singer/songwriter in my 20s which was a gazillion years ago and didn’t know anything back then. As my focus shifted to becoming a voice teacher then later a vocal producer then a music producer and audio engineer, I really had no reason to learn what went into marketing music. Until artists I was working with started asking me, “So….how do I do this? How can I get people to listen to my music”? Since I didn’t know, I’ve been determined to figure it out.
This is what I’ve learned. During the initial phase of “going for it”, it is so hard that most artists quit and give up before they break out of this phase and into the next one. The first 3 to 5 years are THE HARDEST! You could probably say, this is the case with almost every hard endeavor in life. How many little 8-year-olds say they want to be astronauts? How many of those 8-year-olds who love watching rockets take off actually make it through all of those hard-core physics, math, science, and on-and-on classes that it takes to actually become an astronaut? Most of us have unrealistic ambitions as a child. With music, it is something that brings us JOY! And the microscopic sample of successful musicians that we actually see are having the time of their life! So, it must be pretty straightforward, right?
Music is, for most of us who decide to pursue it, a passion that envelops our entire being. We feel spiritually, emotionally, and physically attached to the creation of music. The problem is that, unlike becoming an astronaut, there isn’t a clear path from the “dreaming and wanting” part to actually doing it in a successful way. This is why we flail around, trying different things, spinning our wheels, and then ultimately give up.
So I came up with 6 things that are keeping you from actually achieving what you want with your music. This isn’t a “do these things and you’ll find guaranteed success in 30 days!” type of thing. These are all HARD things to accomplish or overcome. As hard as they are, tackling these six steps are the foundation to building a real music business.
You haven’t clearly defined what success looks like to you.
We all have various dreams and goals. The thought of singing in front of Katy Perry on live TV is enough to put me in a coma. For you, however, that might be the ultimate! I used to travel every weekend with a successful party band. After a few years, I was so tired of traveling. But you might be looking forward to that day when you can travel the world touring with your band! I love being alone with my computer creating, editing, and mixing. You may absolutely live and breathe the experience of performing live. Create a clear vision of what success looks like to you, regardless of how ridiculous, hard, or inconvenient it seems right now. Get the vision clear so that you always know where you are heading. When Alice in Wonderland saw two path options, she asked the Cheshire Cat, “Which path should I take?” The Cat answered, “Where are you going”? Her answer was, “I don’t know”, to which the Cat replied, “Then it doesn’t really matter, does it?”. Knowing where your destination is will help guide you in every decision you make.
You haven’t created a unique brand or story that attracts people to you and pulls them into your world.
With over 100,000 songs being uploaded to Spotify a DAY, this is an essential step that many disregard. It’s the day of the Indie Artist right now. It used to be that being an independent artist, which means you are not signed to a major record label and are using your own resources to create and market your music, was being a really small fish in a massive ocean with a few mostly large fish (label artists). Now, this same large ocean is FULL of millions of really small fish. The problem we have now is being just another small fish among all the other small fish. How can we get noticed? How can we set ourselves apart and be truly unique in a way that pulls eyes and ears to us? Creating your brand is a way to define who you are, which helps you stand out in this crowded space. If you have no idea where to even start with creating your own, unique artist brand, download your free Artist Branding Workbook here.
You haven’t put together a clear, functioning, professional infrastructure or ecosystem.
This is your website, your email list, a regular posting schedule, and a regular conversation with your fanbase. This is a big one because it takes some investment in time, a little bit of money perhaps, but more significantly, it forces you to make decisions. What should my domain name be? Is my official artist name right? Too common or boring? What are my colors? I guess I need new photos…etc. As cumbersome as this step feels, it is again, foundational. Without it, you are just “pretending” to be an independent artist. OUCH.
You haven’t been clear about what you want.
If I had a penny for every time an artist told me “I’m not interested in making money” or “I don’t want to be famous or anything”, I would be a millionaire. And that is no exaggeration. I’m sure those same words came out of my mouth in my early twenties. Because I think it’s absolutely true for most of us! We AREN’T pursuing music for money or fame. Here’s the problem with this thinking, however; you are leaving out the most important part of making music. Music is meant to be shared! I believe this is what motivates all of us. Your purpose with music is to connect with people, to move them and help them. Inspire them. Heal them. Excite them. You want to MAKE PEOPLE EXPERIENCE SOMETHING! Right? For some reason, we as musicians have come to believe that if we are focused on marketing, it means we are being selfish, or delusional, or have lost sight of what music is for. Or that it gives the appearance that we are too focused on money. The opposite is true, in my humble opinion. If you do not concern yourself with marketing (aka; reaching the people in the world who will be moved by your music), then WHAT IS THE POINT? Do you see what I’m saying? I’ve had this conversation with people about making sure they have their email list and the ecosystem in place. But then when I ask the question, “Ok, now, what do you want people on that list to do? What do you want them to feel compelled to do?”, the response is the old “deer in the headlights”. This is what I mean by getting clear on your purpose. How do you expect to move people if you shut out the process of finding them, nurturing those relationships, and then providing ways for them to support you?
Your music is the last priority.
This is a toughy, I know it. Especially for the young adult just starting a family or just getting out of high school with no real money to speak of, or the average adult who is spread thin. The importance of prioritizing a portion of your day or week for this pursuit is the same as prioritizing your gym time or alone time or friend time or spouse time. Whatever stage of life you are in right now, it will always feel hard to carve out the time that you need to work on your music business, because you’ve convinced yourself, or someone in your life has convinced you, that it’s frivolous and not important, that it should be last. Have a conversation with your loved one. Have a conversation with YOURSELF if it’s your own false beliefs that are telling you this. I created a Prioritize Your Life and Schedule Worksheet (download for free by clicking here) because this is such an issue with every artist I talk with. Even if it’s only 30 minutes on a Wednesday afternoon, if you consistently spend 30 minutes a week on your music, you will be much further along in 6 months than you would be if you spent zero time on your music. You get me?
You are doing this alone.
Does it feel like you are alone in the ring, fighting some big brawny bully called “the music industry”? Maybe the opponent is your own circumstances; not enough time, not enough money. The struggle is REAL. What you need is a support system. Just a few people in the corner of the ring, cheering you on, telling you to breathe, patching up your skin and giving you water, and wiping the sweat from your eyes can make all the difference. We may not be able to fight the fight for you but we can certainly be your support system. Find people and groups that are positive and encouraging. Find a mentor and accountability partner! Just as an athlete needs a coach or we look to a personal trainer to level up in the gym, find that mentor to help you develop the areas where you are struggling.
With all the love in my heart, these are all meant to be helpful and encouraging! Take one of these at a time and make it your goal for the next month. I know you can do it!